Denair High boys basketball head coach RJ Henderson and assistant coach Garett Elliot have been working towards building a successful program over the last three seasons, but it's been rocky.
After a 4-8 Southern Athletic League finish last season, the Coyotes dealt with multiple challenges that hindered the team from accomplishing their goal as they finished with an 8-18 overall record, losing four of their final five games.
With the new season, comes a whole new team—with the exception of Isaac Starks and Dylan Mann.
“Our team is way different than last year,” said Elliot. “We lost a lot of senior leadership but what we gained was speed, we will be a lot quicker and we can run man for man and match up with teams in our league and hope to run the floor more.”
The Southern Athletic League was dominated by Mariposa a year ago and odds are they might be the favorites but there is belief roaming around the halls of the Denair High that the possibility of an upset is more than possible, although the task will be a difficult one.
Led by Starks' leadership as a ball handler and shooter, the sophomore Mann is back after playing extensive minutes as a freshman on the varsity roster.
Standing at 6-foot-5, the now sophomore is seeking a standout second-year campaign at the varsity level with his big-man skills.
“So far we have seen Isaac (Starks) be the team captain for sure and running the offense well,” said Elliot. “We do have a number of guys that will contribute but we will be well rounded and Dylan (Mann) added muscle and should have a good season.”
The battle for the top three spots in the SAL are in the air, but that is what the team from Denair is hoping for — a chance to prove they can compete.
Along with the team's speed, the aggressiveness on defense is what has been apparent for coach Elliot in the first few practices.
“I can say that this is the first time that we have had a team that collective meshes together on defense and talks, without us saying much,” Elliot said. “They are active so this is very different defensively because of the combativeness that they show.
“We always hope to be more competitive than the previous season and, so far, we have that enthusiasm to fight for a top three playoff spot and we think we are more than capable. We know there are favorites (Mariposa) but long as we stay healthy and keep our guys to stay in with grades and all then we have a good shot of a winning record and making playoffs.”
The first game for Denair will be at home against Stone Ridge Christian at 7 p.m. Dec. 1.